Here are the players I selected for the Hall of Fame:
Larkin, Raines and Trammell were on my ballot last year. Nothing changed as far as their merits.
Briefly, Larkin and Trammell were consistent, productive players who dominated a premium position for a long period of time. Raines was overshadowed by Rickey Henderson but was an on-base machine and an excellent defender.
Bagwell was not on my ballot last year. I was torn over the idea of voting for a slugger from the Steroid Era and wrote some sort of nonsense about more research needing to be done into that time period.
That was just an excuse. I wondered if Bagwell did some sort of performance enhancing drugs and held back my vote as a result.
As a young writer at the Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin in the late 1980s, I saw Bagwell play at least a dozen times at the University of Hartford. He had a great swing but hit only 31 home runs over three years. That was with an aluminum bat in the lower levels of Division I. Bagwell also never had more than 14 doubles in a season in college. He then had a .415 slugging percentage in his first year in the minors with the Red Sox, .457 in the second. In those two seasons, he hit a total of six home runs. Six.
You know what happened next. Bagwell became one of the most productive first basemen in history. He hit .297/.408/.540 for the Astros with 449 home runs. He slugged .750 in 1994. Along the way, a normal-sized kid became a muscle-bound hulk.
But never once has Bagwell been tied to steroids. He has vehemently denied it, saying his size was the result of lifting weights.
Former teammate Morgan Ensberg, a player known for being candid and honest, believes Bagwell. So do others I've spoken to.
As a Hall of Fame voter, it would be nice to get a list of players who were guilty of taking PEDs. Instead the Hall and the BBWAA asks you to consider "the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
Some writers I respect have taken the position of ignoring drug use and voting for players based only on what they did on the field. Others are withholding their votes based on suspicion, which explains why Bagwell received only 41.7 percent of the vote last year.
Ignoring drug use seems unconscionable. Voting for Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire or Manny Ramirez would cheapen the Hall of Fame. But not voting for somebody based only a hunch is worse. It's baseball McCarthyism.
This issue is only going to get more dicey as time goes on and more Steroid Era players become eligible. Let's face it, some players were just smart or lucky enough not to get caught. Others weren't.
If that's all we have, so be it. The argument that baseball didn't have drug testing until 2004 is a silly one in my opinion. To use steroids or PEDs, a player had to break the laws of the United States by illicitly obtaining a drug and then secretly use it over a period of time to obtain the benefits. They knew what they were doing was wrong whether their union tacitly approved or not.
Perhaps my view on this will evolve over time. But for now, the fair approach seems to be going on the best facts available, not suspicion.
Apologies to Bagwell for skirting the issue last year.
As to the rest of the ballot ...
Edgar Martinez will go down as one of the best designated hitters in history. But if he spent his career at third base or first base, he's a borderline Hall of Famer. Being a career DH means you're a lousy fielder, not worthy of extra consideration.
Bernie Williams hit cleanup 423 times from 1997-2001. Anybody who hits cleanup roughly half the time for a dynasty like the Joe Torre Yankees must have been doing something right. But Bernie falls a little short statistically. His postseason achievements help his candidacy, but not enough.
Bernie was a pleasure to cover. He was a thoughtful guy, always composed and occasionally very funny. Bernie is an accomplished jazz guitarist with a recording contract and has lifelong adulation from Yankees fans. He will not lose a second of sleep about Cooperstown.
HALL OF VERY GOOD
Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Lee Smith, and Larry Walker will get plenty of votes. But the Hall of Fame should be for truly outstanding players.
Morris, to me, was more about great moments than consistent excellence. Anecdotally, he's a Hall of Famer because he came up big in big spots. He also had an ERA+ of 105. McGriff and Walker merited a lot of thought but fell a little shy.
SAY NO TO DRUGS
Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez.
IT'S AN HONOR JUST TO BE NOMINATED
Jeromy Burnitz, Vinny Castilla, Brian Jordan, Javy Lopez, Bill Mueller, Terry Mulholland, Phil Nevin, Brad Radke, Tim Salmon, Ruben Sierra, Tony Womack and Eric Young didn't merit much more than a casual look.
Burnitz would have fit in with the cast of "Jackass." As a practical joke, he would empty out bottles of shampoo in the showers on road trips after the last game of the series and pee in them.
Mueller, of course, was one of the 2004 Red Sox. It'll be interesting to see who makes the Hall from that bunch. Pedro Martinez is a lock. Curt Schilling probably makes it. Maybe Johnny Damon. David Ortiz will have to overcome the DH (and drug) stigma. Ramirez never gets in.
Earl Snyder, who has the University of Hartford career record of 53 home runs, played one game for the 2004 Red Sox.
Lopez was the guy Greg Maddux wouldn't throw to. Nevin was the first pick in the 1992 draft. Derek Jeter was fifth and Damon was 35th.
Radke is 39 and threw 162.1 innings in 2006. If the Red Sox signed him tomorrow, he'd probably be the fifth starter.
Salmon spent every day of his professional life with the Angels, belted 299 home runs and hit .346 in his only World Series with two homers. That's a nice career.
So there you have it. Different opinions are welcome. I would ask you to post your thoughts in the comments section (as opposed to an e-mail) so everybody can see it and I will respond there as time permits.
Thanks to Jay Jaffe and his JAWS system for providing some perspective.